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Work in Progress: Exploring the Attributes of a Prototypical Leader As Viewed by Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 11: Leadership and Collaborations in Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Carmen Maria Lilley University of Illinois, Chicago

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Dr. Lilley’s research interests in engineering education focus on professional development of engineering students at the undergraduate and graduate level. In particular, she is interested in the nuances of how the intersection of race/ethnicity with gender affects professional development in the area of leadership and the long term career trajectory of an individual. Her other research interests are focused on syntheses of low dimensions materials and the characterization and modeling of their material properties.

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This research paper describes the work in progress of a qualitative study that explores the leadership beliefs of undergraduate engineering students on leaders in technology, society or personal role models of leadership. The professional development of leadership skills by undergraduate engineering students is a key to a successful long term career. Increasing diversity and inclusion in leadership is also critical for technology companies as they become global enterprises. Yet, achieving this greater diversity of leadership continues to prove challenging in both engineering education and industry. Additionally, while there is a strong body of research on the impact a single identity, such as race/ethnicity or gender, has on engineering formation or leadership development, the nuances of the intersection of identities on leadership formation of engineering students still remains a significant gap in knowledge. This gap impacts the long-term retention and promotion of a diverse community of engineers and their ascension to leadership roles in industry. To address this knowledge gap, the investigator conducted 32 semi-structured, one-on-one interviews with undergraduate engineering students at a Research I university in an urban location. The interviews took 60-90 minutes and included 32 questions. The research was approved by the institutional review board and all students signed a written consent prior to participation. Students were purposefully selected to gain a broad representation of the engineering disciplines and age (mean age: 22.1 years). The students also reflected diversity in self-identified gender (15 female, 15 male, and 2 transgender) and race/ethnicity (9 Asian, 9 White, 4 Black/African American, 7 Hispanic/Latino, and 3 multiracial students). The students were asked open ended questions on attributes of leaders, both prototypical and anti-prototypical, and their leader role models. The findings presented in this paper focus specifically on 10 questions related to attributes of leaders, and role models for leadership. Samples of these questions included: 1. “If you could meet a leader for a one-on-one meeting, who would it be? What about them is interesting or inspiring?” 2. “Who are the people who you’ve witnessed as leaders in your life and what makes them a leader?” 3. “What distinguishes leaders from people who are just in charge?” These interviews were coded using the constant comparative method to develop a code book to identify the constructs of leader attributes and role models that includes whether race and gender influences these factors. Preliminary analysis shows that both male and female students listed attributes commonly considered as masculine when describing prototypical leaders and included having perseverance and conviction, being a strong communicator and having vision. Interestingly, commonly perceived feminine attributes were also associated to a prototypical leader by both male and female students, such as having empathy, showing compassion, and serving others. These factors will be used to create a conditional matrix on how undergraduate engineering students view leaders and in the long term will be used to develop a theory on how intersectionality of race and gender impact their views of leaders within the engineering field.

Lilley, C. M. (2019, June), Work in Progress: Exploring the Attributes of a Prototypical Leader As Viewed by Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33616

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